Ensuring Life's A Beach In Boca

Ever wonder why, unlike so many South Florida neighboring cities, Boca Raton has so few condominiums along its beaches?

A large part of the reason is that the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District spent the past half century ensuring Boca Raton's coast remained pristine and open to the community.

That's by design.

Florida's state legislature created what is now known as the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District for the primary purpose of helping the city of Boca Raton spread the cost of a recent beachfront property purchase between residents within city limits and those west of the city who will use the beach.

During our first 50 years, preserving beach property for the Boca Raton community remained our focus.

Upon its creation, the Boca Raton Tax District, which quickly became the Boca Raton Beach Tax District, immediately began retiring the $19.4 million debt the city incurred when purchasing the property often referred to as the Shine-Butler Tract.

A former owner of the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, J. Myer Schine sold 67 acres, about half of which are east of AIA, to the City of Boca Raton with hopes that the land would become open to the public. By purchasing the land, Boca Raton ensured that eager developers already lining up to build condominiums couldn't turn sand into concrete. 

Chicago business man William Butler planned to build a 200-room hotel on the three acres that connected Boca Raton's south municipal beach to the Sun and Surf Golf Course, part of the Schine Tract. 

At one point the Boca Raton city council voted to name a portion of the Schine Tract “Tortuga Trace Park,” but by the time it officially opened in 1981, the name had changed to the District-recommended “Red Reef Park.” Prior to the park's dedication, the Boca Raton News called Red Reef Park “a planning model for beach recreation. The improvements – a boardwalk, a pavilion, picnic tables – enhance the natural scenery, and were completed on time and in budget.”

A couple years later the District led the push to develop another portion of the Schine Tract into what is now the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Championed by then-Commissioner Gordon Gilbert, Gumbo Limbo has now spent 40 years educating the public about the local ecosystem, preservation and conservation. Gumbo Limbo's programs for sea turtle rehabilitation and marine life research have garnered national acclaim.

In 1994 the District took another massive step to preserve Boca Raton's beachfront property by purchasing Ocean Strand, 15 acres of land a bit north of Gumbo Limbo which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal. 

Over the past half century the District's contributions weren't limited to purchases and park creation. 

The District helped fund multiple beach renourishment projects, preserving the dunes that protect the community from rising tides while expanding the amount of beach for the community to enjoy.

For 50 years, District Commissioners have taken their pledge to preserve Boca Raton's beaches seriously. By doing so, they've allowed the Boca Raton community to relax a little easier.

This story originally appeared in the March 2024 edition of our District Dispatch newsletter. To receive future newsletters via email, enter your email address below, then click "Send Me District Newsletter Updates!"

Schine Tract from Offshore

The Schine Tract (outlined in red) became what is now Red Reef Park and the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Kids play at Red Reef Park

Children have fun in the sand at Red Reef Park.

A turtle heading toward the sea

Once rare, turtle hatchings are now common on the beach at Red Reef Park. 

Fishing in the Intracoastal

People fishing along the Intracoastal on the western border of the Schine Tract.

Red Reef Park

Thousands of people each year now enjoy the beauty of Red Reef Park.